Remember that opening day of trout season tradition? It's a thing of the past. Most of our best trout fishing lakes and reservoirs are open year-round. In Oregon, you can go fishing when you feel like it or when the ice thaws, whichever comes first. Here are some of the best ice-out trout fishing destinations for early April.
In Central Oregon, and west of Tygh Valley, Pine Hollow Reservoir is a 240-acre irrigation impoundment set in mixed pines and oak trees. Less than an hour's drive from The Dalles, it is a popular summer fishery, but can be pretty quiet early in the spring. And that's when this fishery kicks off. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks legal trout and big brood stock rainbows here, starting the third week of March if ice allows. When the ice first begins to thaw, the fishing should be excellent. A boat is a good idea for this lake, although there is good bank angling at the east shore boat ramp and on the east shore. My favorite trolling pattern touches at the buoys in front of the resort.
Nearby, and west of Wamic, Rock Creek Reservoir shows off best early in the season when ODFW stocks approximately 12,000 legal rainbows between early March and the end of May. Plan it for the third week of March and beyond. This is a good spot for bank angling, but a car-topper boat is a definite advantage. Bait is allowed and bank anglers do best when using jar baits with a sliding sinker and a long leader. This is not a place to use a light leader. The Department often plants brood stock trout that can run up to 30 inches long.
Near the town of Summer Lake, 60-acre Ana Reservoir is one that does not ice over, but the best timing is going to be after the third week of March when ODFW typically plants 3,000 legal rainbows. The community of Summer Lake has been paying for additional trophy rainbows to be stocked in this lake, creating a destination fishery that is still relatively unknown. Trust me, if you catch one of the big ones and want to keep it for a barbecue, it may be one of the best tasting trout you have had in a long time. Or let it go for the next guy to tangle with. Your call. Best place to start is at the boat ramp and along the dam. Bank fishing is good here. Fly anglers will want a boat or float tube.
If you plan a trip to Ana, there is a good RV park, nearby hot springs with cabins, and the Lodge at Summer Lake. Tell them you're there for the fishing and they will keep this trophy program going.
In early April, Krumbo Reservoir is one of the best things going when ODFW plants the first legal rainbows of the year. Krumbo, a shallow desert lake on the west side of the Steens, is 150 acres and fishes best in spring and fall. Because the lake is so food-rich, the trout can winter over and 20-inchers are common. Bank anglers can do well here, although bank access is tricky, scrambling over lava rocks. A better bet is to bring a float tube or a small boat.
Between Sumpter and Baker City, 2,235-acre Phillips Reservoir was a formerly great rainbow trout fishery which was overrun by yellow perch and has since been rehabilitated with the help of the tiger muskie. That is all you need to know. But since you want more, I'll give it to you. Phillips is a better-than-good ice fishing destination. Perch can be easy to catch through the ice and are every bit as good to eat as walleye. And the perch, because there are fewer of them now, are bigger. As this issue goes to press, Phillips Reservoir has about 12 inches of ice, so depending on the spring conditions, it could still be iced over well into April. Another item to consider is that Phillips is refilling after being drained last year so boat ramps might be out of the water.
At full pool, trolling is a real treat on this lake. An angler should plan to troll for rainbows and spend a little time targeting tiger muskie, which is a catch-and-release fishery. On a steady diet of six-inch perch and 10-inch rainbows, these fish grow to four feet long and weigh as much as 30 pounds. I hooked one once and lost it when it plowed through the weeds next to the boat, jumped as high as my shoulder and broke my line. Use a steel leader and a six-inch swim bait or large spinner bait to target tiger muskies.
One of my favorite lakes right now is Lake Simtustus, located seven miles west of Madras in the deep, narrow Deschutes canyon. Simtustus was formed by Pelton Dam, backing up to Round Butte Dam below Lake Billy Chinook. The reservoir was named after a Warm Springs warrior who served as an Army scout in the Paiute wars of the 1860’s and lived on the Warm Springs Reservation. The reservoir receives about 25,000 trout each season; a hard-fighting summer steelhead strain that run a fat 12 to 14 inches in April.
To fish Simtustus, an angler must not only have an Oregon fishing license, but also a tribal fishing permit. The annual price is up to $60 to fish Simtustus, and that keeps a lot of anglers away. Simtustus has been kicking out limits of rainbows already this year, but not for me. When I fished it in February, I only caught one, but I'm seeking rainbow redemption with several trips on the calendar for April and May.
For the trout fisherman, at the end of a long, cold winter, it's time to plan some road trips and do battle with trout.
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Gary Lewis is the author of the Fishing Central Oregon book. For a signed copy, send $29.99 (free shipping) to PO Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709. Contact Gary at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com